Revising for the English Exam

Revising for the English Exam

This week, Insight writer and English teacher Anja Drummond shares her top tips on how to revise in the four weeks leading up to the English exam.

Now that you have finished your SACs, it is time to direct your energy to exam revision. There are lots of things you can do to get yourself match-fit for the English exam – here are my top tips!

Practise handwriting

Like any sort of endurance activity, the English exam can be fatiguing if you’re not prepared. To make sure you can give the exam your best shot on the day, you should train your hand muscles so that you can write by hand for three hours. Tape some AAA batteries to the top of your pen – the extra weight is like dumbbells for your hand muscles.

Know your texts

One of the assessment criteria for both Section A (Analytical interpretation of a text) and Section B (Comparative analysis of texts) in the exam is ‘knowledge and understanding’ of your texts. Re-immerse yourself in your texts – re-read/rewatch them, write summaries for them and research them further online or in study guides. Make notes on the characters, themes and settings, as well as the contexts in which the texts were produced, specific literary features, and the intentions of the authors/directors. If you are a visual learner, create mind maps and put them on your wall (or on the back of the toilet door!) to read at home.

Connect themes with authorial purpose

Make sure you’ve had practice connecting the themes in a text with the author’s purpose or values. Note down the key themes in your texts – for example, for The Women of Troy, you might write down bravery, pride, grief and gender. For each of these themes, create statements about the text that start with the author’s name, followed by a powerful verb. For example:

  • Euripides challenges the Hellenic belief that only men show bravery on battlefields.
  • Euripides confronts his audience with the brutal reality that Trojan women are subjected to terrible horrors when they don’t have the protection of their husbands.

Analyse quotes

It is not enough to simply drop a quote into your paragraph – you also need to analyse it. Compile a list of key quotes from your texts, then practise building up your explanations of the quotes. Ask yourself some key questions, including:

  • What literary feature is being used in this quote? (e.g. characterisation, symbol, connotation)
  • In what context does the quote appear? What event or character does it relate to?
  • Does this quote connect to another part of the text? Can you make a meaningful connection with other moments in the text to reinforce your interpretation?
  • How does the quote relate to the author’s views and values? How do they want the audience to feel, think or act?

Plan and write

Once you have revised your texts and spent time analysing some key quotes, you should plan and write practice essays on different topics. My suggestion for preparing for Sections A and B of the exam is the approach of plan four, write one. Give yourself one hour to write four plans, then select one of your plans and write a complete essay based on it. In the early stages, you should do this with your notes in front of you, but by mid-October you should be able to do this without looking at any of your quotes or other revision materials.

Practise reading and analysing

Section C of the English exam requires you to identify the arguments used in a text or texts that position readers to accept a particular point of view, and to analyse the ways in which language (both written and visual) is used to develop those arguments. For this section of the exam, you’ll need to be able to work with new material quickly.

One way to prepare for this is to begin a revision routine to help speed up your reading and analysis. Set a timer for 15 minutes during which you should  read a practice persuasive text. As you read, think about the author’s contention, intention, audience and arguments, as well as how the visual material fits into the overall argument. Once the reading time has elapsed, make analytical annotations on the text. Use different coloured highlighters when annotating. Each colour should relate to a different supporting argument in the piece. This will help you to synthesise the information when you start writing.

Get feedback

Look over the practice essays and SACs that you have completed throughout the year. Enlist the support of your teacher to identify your key areas for improvement, and make sure that these are specific. For example, your teacher might have written ‘give an example’ or ‘support with evidence’. The skill they want you to work on is using evidence to support your explanations. Revise the section of the essay where your teacher made this note and resubmit it for feedback. Other key areas for improvement might include understanding essay topics, developing topic sentences, and linking back to the topic or prompt.

Send your practice plans and essays to your English teacher for feedback. I recommend to my students that they purchase two exercise books to write practice essays in – you can hand one book to your teacher when you have written an essay, then when you get that back you hand them the other book with more essays. Your teacher may grumble about the marking, but secretly it makes us really happy when students take their revision seriously like this.

And finally …

Take care of yourself, look after your mental health, and always ask for help when you need it.

Good luck!


Need help preparing for the English exam? Make sure you get our VCE English SAC & Exam Guide by Robert Beardwood and Melanie Napthine. This book includes revision strategies and activities to help you prepare for the VCE English exam. From planning and writing essays to managing time in the exam, it covers the knowledge and skills required for success in the English exam.

The VCE English SAC & Exam Guide is produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.


Image credit: Gorodenkoff/shutterstock

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